Books vs. Texts: Verilyn Klinkenborg on E-Reading

Like Marilyn Klinkenborg, I currently have several books going at once. I am reading Frank Beckwith’s memoir Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic because as a former Catholic I have flirted with such a “return” for a long time. I am reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. I did not like her first novel Houskeeping very much, but I have heard so many great things about Robinson’s writing that I thought I would give her another try. I am also about halfway through Robert Pinsky’s Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town. It is a short book about place and Pinsky’s connection to his home town of Long Branch, New Jersey. I have just recently begun working my way through Steven M Dworetz, The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution. So far, so good.

I do a lot of reading on the computer screen–mostly blog entries and on-line articles. But I have never read an e-book. Nor have I read a book on a Kindle. When I read I like to be comfortable. I tend to do my best reading in bed or on the double reclining sofa in my home office. I have been known to read myself to sleep at night.

This is why I appreciated Verilyn Klinkenborg’s piece in today’s New York Times, “Some Thoughts About E-Reading.” Unlike me, Klinkenborg does read e-books. But she argues that the e-book is no substitute for the printed book:

In one way or another, I’ve been reading on a computer ever since it meant looking at green phosphor pixels against a black background. And I love the prospect of e-reading — the immediacy it offers, the increasing wealth of its resources. But I’m discovering, too, a hidden property in printed books, one of the reasons I will always prefer them. They do nothing.

I love the typefaces and the bindings and the feel of well-made paper. But what I really love is their inertness. No matter how I shake “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” mushrooms don’t tumble out of the upper margin, unlike the “Alice” for the iPad. I never have the lingering sense that there is another window open behind page 133 of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel.” I can tell the weather from these books only by the way their pages curl when it’s hot and humid.

And more. There is never a software glitch, like the one that keeps me from turning the page in ebrary. And there’s nothing meta about the metadata of real books. You can’t strip away details about the printing of the book — copyright information, place and date of publication — without actually tearing off the binding, title page, half-title and colophon. The book is the book, whereas, in electronic formats, the book often seems to be merely the text.